Local Politics

Wake needs extra $1M to clear backlog in social services applications

Posted January 13, 2014

— Wake County is weeks behind in enrolling people for social services using a new state system and will need another $1 million in the coming months to help get caught up, officials said Monday.

The NC FAST system has been plagued by problems since it was rolled out in late 2012, with food stamps recipients sometimes waiting months for their benefits and county social services offices scrambling to convert files from older systems to the new one.

Liz Scott, assistant director of Wake County Human Services, told the Board of Commissioners on Monday that the problems have gotten worse since the agency started using NC FAST for Medicaid enrollment in October. The county is a month behind on recertifying people's eligibility for food stamps, Scott said, and they would be three months behind in Medicaid recertifications if the state hadn't extended deadlines for that. She said she expects the agency to be caught up with Medicaid certifications by the end of January.

"We've got people in our county going hungry because of this," Commissioner Joe Bryan said. "I'm very uncomfortable knowing we can't provide the public with the answers they need."

NC FAST was supposed to begin processing Work First welfare applications in Wake County and move all Medicaid cases to the system in February, but that has been put on hold until the backlog of cases can be cleared. Officials called those cases "more complex and interconnected" than food stamps, which could lead to more delays in the future.

To address the problem, all county social services workers are putting in eight hours of overtime every week, and the county hired 53 temporary workers to process food stamps applications and is contracting with an outside company to help process Medicaid applications. The county also has expanded its call center to handle questions and has set up dozens of self-service kiosks for clients.

The efforts have cost close to $1.1 million since the beginning of July, and the county had set aside only $1.8 million for NC FAST conversions for the fiscal year, which ends in June.

Scott said her agency likely will need another $748,000 to keep temporary workers until the backlog is cleared, as well as $375,000 to hire 25 more temporary workers to process Medicaid cases. The Medicaid program would pick up half of that cost, officials said.

"We're putting money into solving a problem we didn't create," Commissioner Paul Coble said, blaming state and federal officials for the problems with NC FAST.

The system also is having trouble linking up with the federal HealthCare.gov site, which is flagging people enrolling for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act as potential Medicaid recipients.

Commissioner Tony Gurley said the board needs to allocate the needed money to get rid of backlog. The county cannot control website or software program issues, but it can control hiring more staff to alleviate the backlog, he said.

"People who are eligible for food assistance, and through government incompetence, delays or whatever, they don't get those benefits, they have to do without," Gurley said. "The cost to all of our citizens of having people not getting the proper food or medical care is going to be a lot higher than the cost it would take just to get some of these problems caught up."


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  • maybelle Jan 15, 2014

    wake is not worse than other counties. Other counties just have not fessed up and thas a fact

  • maybelle Jan 15, 2014

    Wake is not doing worse than other counties. Thats a fact.

  • HeadsUp Jan 14, 2014

    Why is Wake Social Services doing so much worse than most other counties?

    Maybe it, too, is poorly managed?

  • DJ of Clayton Jan 14, 2014

    Really enjoy reading the comments.

    It is our natural tendency to place blame. OK, Gov'na Bev's administration oversaw (at least should have) the creation of the program. Remember, the program was not designed by state employees, but a contractor (a low bid contractor). It was rolled out in Gov'na McCrory's administration without input on designing it. OK, I get that. However, since Bev isn't around to take the blame, it is still up to the current administration to fix it and stop blaming the previous administration or legislature.

    And yes, it is going to cost a lot of money to fix it.

    And yes, state employees oversaw the implementation of a faulty program... that was no doubt designed by the lowest bidder. Seems like I have read many, many time how that whole 'lowest bidder' thing comes back to bite us in the a$$.

  • clc72 Jan 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I'm sorry, is the director of the DHHS not a state employee? Are the technical support people not state employees? Of course they are - and they failed to do their job.

  • matt_wood Jan 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    3 weeks is PLENTY of time to get a handle on the progress (or lack thereof) of a project and decide to delay implementation until the bugs are worked, especially when it's the largest project the agency is working on. That would have actually been a display of strong leadership.

  • WralCensorsAreBias Jan 14, 2014

    Don't ask me for it, you're not getting another penny. Not one.

  • nic Jan 14, 2014

    Whether or not it was the previous administration that left us with this mess the Governor needs to step up and say this is how we're going to fix it. I'm not interested in who's fault it is just get it fixed!

  • scubagirl2 Jan 14, 2014

    use Wos salary to help pay for this.....

  • ctya Jan 14, 2014

    clc72 how are you going to blame a State employee for this mess. They have nothing to do with the system that was selected to do great and wonderful things. Another citizen with comments with no value. Know the facts. I'm sure the employees at DHHS would love for the fixes to work. I'm sure they don't enjoy reading stupid comments daily from the likes of people like you and all the negative press behind this. And all the overtime they may be required to work. Geesh!!!